David Brooks is a columnist for the NY Times. He wrote an article March 7, 2011 titled “The New Humanism” that caused quite a stir in education circles. The article has to do with our nation’s “overly simplistic view of human nature” and our belief in the West that “society progresses to the extent that reason can suppress the passions.” As a result, we focus on our kid’s test scores and achievement and competition in school and put subjects having to do with the arts on the back burner. Brooks notes that that historically in our culture something has to be quantifiable or measurable to be considered worthy of our attention. Unfortunately, this causes a major disconnect between our hearts and heads.
I have experienced this disconnect recently during a visit to a new doctor for a ‘complete’ physical examination which consisted solely of discussing my blood work and her giving me a print-out of exercises to do for my wounded rotator cuff. I was thrilled that my blood work looked so good, but disappointed that this doctor didn’t touch my shoulder or look at any other part of me to back up the medical report with her own intuition. I walked away feeling disappointed as if I’d been reduced to technical notes on a piece of paper.
It is interesting to note that my physical examination was on March 7th, the same day that Brook’s editorial was being published in the NY Times. I discovered this the next day when a friend – not knowing my thoughts about the doctor’s visit – sent me a link to the “Point Reyes Dialogues” between author/philosopher Jacob Needleman and other philosophers, humanitarians, and high-profile service workers. There were several dialogues to choose from…I chose, at random, to listen to the one between Needleman and Dr. David Heiden, an Ophthalmologist who serves individuals in developing countries in an effort to save their eyesight from complications due to AIDS. Both Needleman and Heiden praised Brook’s editorial, and discussed their beliefs that touch is essential for a doctor/patient relationship to have real integrity. The dialogue supported my own feelings during my less-than-physical examination.
“One of the greatest things you can give me is your attention,” says Needleman, “When you give me your attention…when I feel you’re really letting me in…hearing me, feeling me, seeing me, that is as much a healing force as almost anything…technology is good up to a point, but if the other part isn’t there, something is going to be dead wrong.”
I am touched by those words. Right on, I say. Right on!